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£25,287 fine for south London bleaching cream vendor

BREAKING THE LAW: Zara Hair & Cosmetics sold banned products (image credit: Southwark Council)

A LOCAL authority sting and surveillance operation uncovered a haul of 3,000 illegal skin-lightening products, which lead to the conviction and sentencing of Tanveer Ahmed, 46, of East Ham, who was fined £25,287 at Camberwell Green Magistrates Court last week.

Ahmed, sole Director of Zara Hair & Cosmetics, which can be found at 357-359 Walworth Road in south London, pleaded guilty to offences of breaching EU cosmetics safety laws, by supplying skin lighteners containing the banned ingredient hydroquinone.

He was fined a total of £13,000 and ordered to pay costs, including a victims surcharge, of £12,287. His company was also fined £300 for the same offences.

The court heard that in June 2016, an undercover test purchase of Caro White Lightening Beauty Cream had been carried out at Zara Hair & Cosmetics by Southwark Council. The product, costing £14.99, was fetched by an assistant from somewhere outside of the shop and sold on an ‘under the counter’ basis.

SECRET HIDING PLACE: Shop staff would retreat to a van to collect the goods when customers asked to buy the banned substances (image credit: Southwark Council)

Analysis showed that the product contained 4.3% hydroquinone, an ingredient which affects pigment production in the skin and is banned in cosmetic skin lighteners throughout the EU, because of its dangerous long-term health effects.

A further test purchase was conducted in April 2017, but this time officers were carrying out surveillance and watched as a member of staff went to Ahmed’s van to get the goods. Camberwell Green Magistrates Court subsequently granted an entry warrant for Ahmed’s van and home address in East Ham, east London. It was there, in July 2017, that trading standards found and seized nearly 3,000 illegal skin lightening products.

One product, Grace Duo, was found to contain over 20% of the banned ingredient – believed to be the highest concentration ever found by trading standards in such products.

Southwark Council is one of the most proactive enforcement authorities in the UK regarding illegal skin lighteners. Between 2002 and 2016, 19 local cosmetic suppliers were convicted of supplying dangerous and illegal skin lightening products. Total fines and costs have amounted to some £394,000, with two suspended prison sentences.

HIGHLY DANGEROUS: Grace Duo had over 20% of banned hydroquinone in it (image credit: Southwark Council)

When imposing the fine the District Judge gave Ahmed credit for pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity, but remarked that rather than ceasing the sale of products he knew were illegal, he had sought to hide his stock and carry on regardless. The judge went on to say that should Ahmed come before him again for such offences, he would be sent to prison.

Councillor Barrie Hargrove, Southwark Cabinet Member for Communities and Safety commented:

“The council takes the protection of consumers extremely seriously. These skin lighteners are illegal and very dangerous. This is why we must take a hard line against anyone found to be selling them.

“This result is a good outcome for our outstanding trading standards team and for customer safety. It sends a clear message to other traders that we will investigate and prosecute those who put customers in danger.”

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